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My Car

Or, "Goddamn Yinzer Drivers!!"

I've had a car for just over two years now (as of April 22, 2002). Actually, I've had two cars. Just doing my bit to keep money in the economy.

About a week before St. Patrick's Day 2000, I went back to Akron on a Greyhound to visit my grandmother. She was very sick, and wasn't expected to live too much longer. My mother and my uncle agreed to lend me my grandmother's '94 Chevrolet Corsica so I could come back when I needed to for the inevitable funeral.

My mother and uncle had also agreed that since I had no car of my own, I could purchase the Corsica if I wanted to, thus ending 23-plus years of bumming rides. I decided it would be best to have my own method of transportation, so I agreed to buy the car. That's when it got weird.

Since the car was part of my grandmother's estate, the thing had to go through probate. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this, it takes a long time. A very long time. So long, in fact, that as of June first I still didn't own the car, because the lawyer(s) were still dicking around with the paperwork. Meantime, I've had the car insured for more than two months and have been driving to and from work, to and from the mall ... basically doing things that people with cars do.

What significance does June first hold, then? Glad you asked. Coming home from meeting some college friends for wings a the Panther Hollow Inn in Oakland (a Pittsburgh neighborhood), I was driving through Schenley Park. The intersection's a little confusing because both streets change names at the intersection. I was crossing the intersection to get to where I live in the Squirrel Hill/Greenfield area (going around a set of construction cones — they were rebuilding the curb or something — and a white Dodge was turning left. The light was green for both of us, and she (I'm assuming) thought I was going to turn left since I was to the left side of the lane.

Bartlett/Greenfield is a little confusing. Like a lot of streets in the Pittsburgh area, it's wide enough to drive two cars abreast, but there are no lane markers. Technically, the roads are only one lane but they become two during rush hours. Very frequently, southbound traffic forms two lanes, with the left portion being the left-turn lane. So the driver probably thought I was turning. This being Pittsburgh, the lack of a turn signal didn't mean anything.

[Note: About mid-July 2000, the Dept. of Public Works painted the southbound side of Bartlett to make a left-turn only lane and a straight-through/right-turn lane. Too little, too late.]

Anyway, she turned in front of me, and I ran into her. My engine died immediately, her air bag deployed and both cars rolled to a stop just out of the intersection.

After dealing with the insurance company for two and a half months (!!) I finally got a check from her insurance company for the value of the Corsica. I went out and finally found a '93 Honda Civic LX that I bought from a guy in Mount Lebanon. Good car: Low mileage (67,100 when I bought it), good fuel economy (about 26 MPG). And a manual transmission.

It took me a little while to learn how to drive a stick-shift, and my clutch still isn't speaking to me. But it's OK now.

Aside from the wear and tear I've put on the clutch, the only problem I'd had with the car was when some jag-off backed into it in a parking lot hard enough to scuff the paint on my Tupperware bumper and pop the Honda emblem off my hood. If you're the unknown driver of the unknown car (it showed up after me and left before) that did this, be advised that you are now on my Shit List.

Which brings me to March 3, 2001. I had just gone to the Wendy's on Browns Hill Road (the backside of Squirrel Hill, heading toward Homestead) and was just about home. I see am SUV coming up behind me, and I know the driver is speeding. How do I know? Because everybody — myself included — speeds on this portion of Beechwood Blvd. People that live here know to watch for people coming out of hard-to-see driveways and making their way into and out of the parallel-parking spaces on the side of the road.

Anyway, I try to hurry, because I'm in no mood to listen to someone lean on their horn because I forced them to slow down from Mach One.

No good. The SUV's driver tries to go around me (without braking) and clips the front-left corner of my car. My Tupperware bumper breaks the clips that hold it to the front fenders, tears itself away from the bolts that hold it to the engine bay, and briefly pops up above my hood so I can see it. The SUV's driver stops, surveys the damage, and pulls over near my friend's car.

I get out and inspect my car. The bumper is only attached at the bottom of the car right now. There's a gash in the paint on the SUV (a Chevy Blazer, FYI) from where it scraped past me. The driver (she looks to be about 17) and I trade insurance information, and the following exchange takes place. Keep in mind that I'm paraphrasing a little.

Her: "I'm not sure ... Did I hit you or did you hit me?"

Me: "I was parking."

Her: "Oh."

As I write this on March 4th, 2001, my bumper is being held on with duct tape (not racing tape, although it'd be kinda cool if it was, given that my car can't do 95 MPH without help). I'm taking it to a body shop on Penn Ave. tomorrow (March 5) to get an estimate, then it's up to the Blazer's owners to decide whether they want to pay out of pocket or involve their insurance company. Given that the only things that appear to be wrong with the car are the bumper and a loose front-left headlight assembly, they'll probably want to pay it themselves, to keep their rates from going up. Especially if my guess about the age of the driver is correct.

Update, March 27, 2001. I've been kinda wrapped up in car stuff (i.e. bitching about my car, wondering aloud when my car will be fixed, etc.) so I haven't been updating or posting like I'd planned. I was still pretty livid when I wrote the tail end of the story, and I decided later that I probably shouldn't post it until things are resolved. So what happened?

Well, me and the girl who hit me spent a lot of time the last three weeks playing phone-tag. I'm guessing she's a college student (and therefore older than my original guess of 17) and has some pretty funky hours between class and work. The second week I took my car to a body shop her father knows, to get a second opinion. Understandable; if I were in her shoes I'd want to make sure I wasn't getting taken to the cleaners. After I got that estimate, she decided to have the second body shop bill the work directly to her father. No muss, no fuss. Fine by me. The body shop's schedule is pretty full, so I just took it in the morning of the 26th. It should be ready today, although I probably won't be able to pick it up due to the Penguins game I'm going to tonight. Probably get it Wednesday morning and drive it to work. Total time: 23 days. Or about double the speed of the insurance agency that handled the Corsica.

Hey, wanna see pictures of my car while it was all bitched up? Then check out the pictures I took of it.

Update: December 26, 2001. It happened again.

This wasn't as serious as the first two — in fact, the severity seems to be decreasing by an order of magnitude each time. This time I was coming off of the Fort Duquesne Bridge to get on Fort Pitt Blvd. (the same way to get on I-376, if that helps). The off-ramp opens up pretty quickly into two lanes: One for Fort Pitt Blvd. on the right, the other for I-376 on the left.

The lane for 376 is always backed up during rush hour, and since not many people want to stay on Fort Pitt Blvd., people tend to use the right lane to cut ahead in line. Anyway, it's dark. (Because it's 8:30 on a winter night, not because it's overcast.) I see a guy in a minivan (a Dodge Caravan, maybe?) start to pull out. He later said he had his blinker on; I didn't see them so I can't say whether he did or didn't. I get on my brakes, since he's not very far ahead of me, and almost get stopped in time. I wound up with a dent the area of a softball in my front left fender and a little bit of his paint streaked down the fender and a little way onto the driver's door. His paint is scuffed. That's it.

So now I have to go get an estimate for repair and fax it to the guy's agent. There doesn't appear to be a lot of damage, but I'm no expert. But on the bright side, people give me a slightly wider berth on the road now.

Update: April 22, 2002. Well, the timing of the last accident turned out to be pretty bad. I didn't do anything right away because I was going home for Christmas, then there was New Year's. I finally called the insurance agent in mid-January. I got the estimate, faxed it to him, and he said he'd have a check in the mail within the week. I didn't notice until late February that I hadn't gotten it yet. Then I got canned. I still haven't called the guy to find out what happened. And with no real way to get to and from this body shop, I'm not sure if I ever will now. Dammit.

Update: October 5, 2002. A couple weeks ago I tried to drive to the north hills to watch the Browns play. Car didn't start. I tried again several times during the day, nothing. The next day I had it towed to Molnar's (cost: $45), where they couldn't find anything wrong with it. But it's probably the starter, they said, and quoted me $280 to replace the thing.

Hell no, I decided, and took it to Pep Boys to fix it for half the cost. Everything went fine until the next time it rained. Back to Pep Boys I go, this time with the knowledge that the failure occurs when it's wet out. (As for the starter, it at least fixed something: Before there was no telling if the car would start or not.) They do a diagnostic ($80) and discover that the problem is with the distributor and spark plug wires. And, since it's about due, I should replace the fuel filter too.

Total cost: Another $200. All in all I've spent $420 on my car in the last three weeks to fix this problem. And I still need to get the brakes worked on (driving like a nut + hills = loud, squeaky brakes). And I'm almost due for an oil change. Fun.

Update: October 30, 2004: Wow, been a while since I updated. Well, for the most part the car's been behaving. Well, there were the tires that I drove on through the winter of 2003 that were practically bald. Made things interesting.

Didn't get my 2003 inspection due to the rust holes in the rear fenders, and didn't get them fixed for 8 or 9 months when I got some freelance money. Then when I went to get it reinspected, Pep Boys found some more structural problems. About a thousand dollars later I got my 2004 inspection signed off and all was well.

Then in early October my radiator blew up. And after that the battery gave out.

But aside from that it's been a breeze.

Update: March 25, 2005. Not much to report. I got back from Bonura & Sattler a couple days ago after getting a dent pounded out of my left fender. Seems someone got a little anxious parallel parking. They left a note with a phone number and promptly had a fit when they found out how much the work would cost. (Hey, I was surprised too. Body shops don't stay in business by being cheap.) Anyway, that's taken care of.

And since I'm moving on Tuesday, I think it's safe to say that my car has survived its five years in Pittsburgh. Hopefully the people in northern Virginia are better drivers. It deserves that much.

Update: August 27, 2006. Been a while since I updated. In the meantime, the car's developed an annoying habit of leaking coolant. Not much (except for the one time when a gasket gave out) so I've just been topping off the radiator every few weeks.

It made me decide to get a new car in the spring, though. Since I made that decision, the damn thing's gone out of its way to cost me as much money as possible. In addition to needed two new tires, I just had to replace the head gasket. This made me push back the purchase date for the new car a little bit. Just like any co-dependant relationship, the more it misbehaves the more I need to keep it around.

I still plan on replacing it, even though it's out of parts that can fail, but it's managed to push back its date of execution from March (when my last speeding ticket will be two years old) to May (when I'll have to re-register and re-inspect it). All it's really accomplished is removing any feel of sentimentality I might have carried for my first actual car.

What now? I'll keep you posted.

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This page last updated Mar 19, 2011 7:10:46 PM.